Letter: 'Thin blue line' flag has no place at public institutions

Posted

Editor of the Reformer,

I appreciate the editorial cartoon of Aug. 9, pillorying the pickup truck driver declaiming that Trump isn't racist while himself sporting numerous racist and dog-whistle flags, bumper stickers and even a 1488 license plate. We've seen plenty of such souped-up bro-trucks around these parts, as likely as not to also be "rolling coal" and displaying the thin blue line flag (also called the blue lives matter flag), often superimposed on the arch-vigilante Punisher skull logo (apparently we are meant to support both police and vigilante justice at the same time).

And so it is that I was surprised to find such a flag flying prominently from a new memorial at the West Brattleboro fire station. The flag, conceived in the wake of Mike Brown's killing and the ascendancy of the Black Lives Matter movement, was always meant as a big middle finger directed at causes for social justice, though detractors will insist that the flag simply honors first responders killed in the line of duty, just as our cartoon truck driver will insist that Trump is not racist. I will give Brattleboro Fire Department staff the benefit of the doubt that they truly just wanted to honor their fallen fellow first responders, notably Marlboro Assistant Fire Chief Jack Horton, killed 10 years ago, Aug. 6. I would submit that a flag so closely aligned with the worst of Trump's America is a poor way to honor his, and their, memory. The flag was flown prominently alongside Confederate and Nazi flags in Charlottesville. Try shopping online for the flag and you will be inundated with racist and right-wing iconography (and your Facebook feed will begin to feature the same). The website of the flag's original designer also sells the version with the Punisher skull logo, in case it was unclear what aspect of American policing he wants us to celebrate.

The fact that none of this raised any red flags (no pun intended) among BFD or Town staff should give us pause, though I applaud their responsiveness in replacing the flag once the issue was brought to their attention. This is not meant to admonish BFD or any Town staff, but it should serve us as a reminder of how much work there is to do to confront white supremacy in our community and in the U.S. more broadly — a reminder that BUHS athletic teams are still referred to as "Colonels," that the number of people of color employed by the Town of Brattleboro can be counted on one hand, that Mike Brown is still dead since five years ago Friday, that Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Eric Garner to death, is not only out of prison, but still employed by NYPD. We can do better.

Fhar Miess

Brattleboro, Aug. 11

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